For parents considering estate planning, one of the most difficult decisions to make is choosing a guardian for their minor children. It is not easy to think about anyone else, no matter how loving, raising your child. But, as the famous quote goes: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” You cannot let a difficult decision prevent you from making a plan that will protect your children and provide them with the stability they need.
The younger your child, the more crucial this choice is, as very young children cannot form or express their own preferences about caregivers. Yet young children are not the only ones who benefit from careful parental attention to guardianship. While children close to 18 years old will be legal adults soon, they still need assistance of a parental figure.
The nomination of guardians is a straightforward aspect of any family’s estate plan. It can be as basic or as detailed as you want. You can simply name the guardian who would act if both you and your spouse were unable to or you can provide detailed guidance about your children and the sort of experiences and family environment you would like for them.
If you are stuck on who to name as guardians for your minor children, consider this four step process:
- Make a list of anyone you know that might be a candidate for guardian of your children.It is important to think beyond your close relatives such as your siblings and parents, and consider more distant relatives including cousins, aunts, and uncles. Also consider non-relatives such as family friends.
- Make a list of qualities that are most important to you when it comes to a guardian for your children. Consider things such as: maturity; age; health and physical capabilities; stability; child-rearing philosophy and parenting style; presence of children in the home already; family and lifestyle considerations; religion or spirituality; social and moral habits and values; and interest in and relationship with your children. Make a list of what is important to you and then rank the factors in order of importance.
- Match people with qualities. Use the factors you chose in step two to narrow your list of candidates to a handful. For some families, it is as easy as it looks. For others, however, these three steps are fraught with conflict. It is important for spouses to communicate and try to find a solution that both feel comfortable with.
- Make it official. Work with an estate planning attorney who can help you with all of the appropriate legal documentation. Your attorney can also counsel you on choosing alternate guardians if your first choice were unavailable to serve.